We live in some crazy times. Every day that moron stays in office is another battle we have to fight for our freedom from him because we never know what that lunatic is going to do. Ever since this election, I am just grateful to wake-up everyday still alive.
When I found out about Death Comes For The War Poets, a new play by Joseph Pearce, I thought this would be a great show to highlight because it takes place on the centenary of the United States’ entry into World War One and grapples with the horror of trench warfare as experienced by the two greatest war poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
I was so excited to get to speak with the plays' two lead actors, Michael Raver and Nicholas Carriere, who play "Wilfred Owen" and "Siegfried Sassoon" respectively. It was interesting to compare the events of the past with what's happening today.
Presented by Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and The Storm Theatre Company, Death Comes For The War Poets will make it's world premiere at The Sheen Center in NYC (18 Bleecker Street) from June 9-24. Click here for tickets!
1. This June you are starring in the world premiere of Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and The Storm Theatre Company's production of Death Comes for the War Poets by Joseph Pearce. What attracted you to this show?
Michael Raver: I didn’t actually know anything about Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon when I heard about this play. The poetry that both of these men wrote, the emotional capacity of their work and what they accomplished with it is staggering. Ultimately because plays are about relationships between people, that's the breakfast, lunch and dinner for actors, right? Sassoon and Owen had a fascinating relationship, one that was very obviously filled with a lot of love. Against the backdrop of how they met and the abiding feelings they expressed to each other suggest delicious possibilities.
Nicholas Carriere: Pure curiosity, and a dose of masochism. I’m from New England, and was raised Catholic, so if it seems difficult, I’ll probably be drawn to it.
2. What do you relate to most about your characters "Siegfried Sassoon" & "Wilfred Owen"? What is one characteristic of theirs are you glad you don't possess?
Michael Raver: I love Owen’s emotional bravery. One of his most profound gifts to the poetic landscape, particularly as it pertained to war, was a willingness to be vulnerable and blunt. There was no sarcasm or triviality in his ethos. As an actor and as a writer, my ultimate desire is to get to the bottom of complicated things. Distilling, while I wrestle with things that make no sense to me. Owen spent his short career fighting to understand violence and I can completely relate to that. I’m relieved that the jingoistic relationship with going to war isn’t on the menu for me. England, at the time of the first World War, had a propensity for nurturing young men to believe that their destinies were all on the battlefield. The might is right. I have respect for the military but I’m endlessly thankful that I’m not among them.
Nicholas Carriere: I love words, much like he (obviously) did, though the way we use them is very different. Sassoon was a fascinating man, whose life was beautiful, and tragic. The events of our respective lives couldn’t be more different; it feels unfair of me to judge any of his choices, or perceived character traits. That said, I could only wish to write as beautifully as he did.
Michael Raver: Reading a lot. I’ve read and re-read his poetry. I also was in touch with the Wilfred Owen Association and they’ve been very helpful giving me some details about him that I might not have easily found in books. Because he was suffering from shell shock at the time we’re covering in the piece, I also watched some really heartbreaking documentaries about the lasting effects of war on the human body.
Nicholas Carriere: I read the first of Sassoon’s autobiographies, and reviewed my WWI history, but because there’s very little interpersonal dialogue in the play, most of the work lay in unpacking the language of his poems, because his poems serve as the narrative engine. I can’t rely on relationships, or sets, or a general audience’s working knowledge of this man. I have to find a way to create the world of this man’s life - both external and internal - with only his poetry.
4. Since you play poets and the show is about war, if you were to write a very short poem about war, how would your poem go?
Nicholas Carriere: If anyone wants to see me doing poetry, they should come see the show starting June 9th!
5. The show is titled Death Comes for the War Poets. If death came for you now, what would you be most grateful for that you've accomplished and what would be one or two things you were like, "Damn, I didn't get to do that yet"?
Michael Raver: I’m grateful that, in the last year particularly, I’ve stayed in the present moment more often than not. I’ve gotten to be present for some really exceptional moments in other people’s lives. Births, weddings, seminal creative moments and also a few deaths. As far as things that I haven’t done yet, I guess that since we live in a work-addicted culture, I would love to get to a point where I can soften out of that a little. In terms of my career, I’m proud of what I’ve done so far. I’m in the process of writing a book right now and I’m looking forward to seeing that through.
Nicholas Carriere: Oh, see, although I have a very bounteous life, with much to be grateful for, I try not to dwell on any of it, and hope to be present enough to not live (or die) with regrets.
6. The show deals with the horror of trench warfare, so what is the most horrific thing to happen to each of you in your life? How did you find the strength to continue after said event?
Michael Raver: My father passed away when I was eighteen and that was pretty traumatizing. Our relationship and the circumstances of it were very complicated and the situation left me with a lot of frayed edges and unresolved issues. For lack of a better way of saying it, losing a parent can feel like emotional war. Someone recently told me this really great idea that your parents give birth to you twice. Once when you’re born and then again when they die. As an adult man now, I’ve made a concerted effort to get the most out of the time I have while I have it. If something bothers me, I say something. If I have the impulse to change something about my life, I really try not to hesitate. While I appreciate that there’s a time and a place for everything, subjugating my feelings and thoughts feels like death.
Nicholas Carriere: There is poetry in the play, which deals with trench warfare, and it’s a testament to Sassoon and Owen as artists that they’re able to render such vivid, haunting accounts of a very dark time in modern history. But it’s the darkness of that time, which enables Sassoon to find a path to peace. So few of us can ever know the horror of that kind of war; mostly anything I could ever, or may ever endure seems manageable.
7. Not only is this story told through the eyes of Siefgried & Wilfred, it's also told through the "Spirit of Death." I don't want to make every question a downer, so let's have some fun with this question. If you could come up with a cheer for the "Spirit of Death," how would you cheer go?
Michael Raver: This isn’t really a chant, but KT Tunstall has a gorgeous song about death called ‘Carried’ that would be my go-to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLNp1WROFR0
Nicholas Carriere: Sarah Naughton, who plays "Death" in the show, will be charming, and cheering audiences nightly starting 6/9. I’ll defer to her expertise.
8. We are currently living in some very trying times, especially with what's his name leading our country. What are some things you are still hopeful for in this day and age?
Michael Raver: I love those moments when communication between people gets bolstered, strengthened. I love directness. I love when I get an email or a text or a call from someone I haven’t seen in a while or even its somebody that I see on a regular basis, to get a "just saying hi" message. Little morsels of love like that can work miracles on a downtrodden mood. Celebrating what unites us rather than what breaks us up. I’m hopeful that in the coming years, people will dig deep to embrace their own vulnerability as a strength rather than labeling it a weakness.
Nicholas Carriere: My father has an infuriating way of assuring me that humanity will find its way towards whatever is best. Frustratingly, as I grow older, I am starting to see his point. I have faith.
Michael Raver: Love is a huge necessity, absolutely, but I think perhaps a refined definition of what love is. To me, love has always been an action. It’s a verb. It’s so easy to toss that word off carelessly. I so want our collective consciousness to rise to the point where we can walk our own talk. If you love someone, show them if you want to tell them. If something bothers you, do something. Regarding the political circus going on at the moment, my encouragement to anyone upset by it would be to pick up a phone, call a congress person, go to a protest. Donate money. Do rather than simply complain.
Nicholas Carriere: Our collective wellspring of empathy and compassion, I think, has no bottom; we need only make better (and more frequent) use of it.
10. If you could write death a letter, what would you say to it?
Dear sir and/or madam:
I have a lot of things I want to do. Do me a solid and let me do them. I want to be very thoroughly used up by the time you show up looking for me.
Nicholas Carriere: "Are you ok? You look like… Well. You know."
Off-Broadway: The Persians (National Actors Theatre); Vieux Carré (The Pearl); Julius Caesar, Romeo & Juliet (Aquila Theatre). Select regional: Bay Street Theater, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Playhouse on Park, Ivoryton Playhouse, Sierra Rep. Select film/TV: How We Built the Bomb, Dark Places, Gone Away, Turn: Washington’s Spies. As a playwright: Fire on Babylon (Wild Project, Great River Shakespeare Festival, The O’Neill semifinalist), Riptide, Quiet Electricity (The O’Neill semifinalist), Evening (Red Bull Theater finalist) and adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray (Sonnet Rep, Orlando Shakespeare Theater
PlayFest finalist) and The Seagull (The Pearl). Contributes pieces to Classical TV, NYC Monthly, Hamptons Monthly, The Huffington Post, Playbill.com, Dance Magazine and CoolHunting.com.
Some New York and regional credits include Sex with Strangers (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), My Report to the World (NY Museum of Jewish Heritage and Shakespeare Theater, DC), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Guthrie Theater), A Song at Twilight (Hartford Stage and Westport Country Playhouse), Zorro (American premiere at Alliance Theatre), Abigail/1702 (world premiere at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Coriolanus (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company), The Lion King (national tour/Vegas). Training: MFA, Yale School of Drama and Muhlenberg College. Thanks to his father for his support and always letting him make a mess in his kitchen.